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Monday, 15 December 2014

December...


  • There were reindeer in town last weekend! It was hard to get a decent photograph, this is one of the best I got. There was a baby one too!
  • And in further interests of getting into the festive spirit, I went to the local pantomime, first time I'd been to a panto in years. It was hilariously funny, and for an amateur group, it really was fantastic
  • It was my birthday two Sunday's ago - I got a meditation mat and cushion from Adam, and we went out for dinner. Then it was Adam's birthday last Sunday, I got him a Bonzai tree and made him a lemon and lime cheesecake
  • In true Grinch-style, Adam's work sent him a letter last week telling him he's only entitled to 9 weeks full pay while off sick, and not the 6 months we had expected. So after a few meltdowns, we've figured that we'll just need to re-jiggle my wage a bit, and we'll get by. He won't be back at work any time soon, but things could be a lot worse
  • Saying that, he's still doing OK. He gets tired so easily though, and he gets pains in his right foot and knee which means he can't walk far. He had an MRI scan last week to see if all the tumour has been removed - the scans had to go to his Consultant so we haven't heard back yet
  • On a happier note, one of my stories won second prize in a Writing Magazine competition - theme: Adult Fairy Story. I'm so excited about this!
  • What's with all the thunder and lightning?! We had over 1500 flashes of lightning in one day last week, and I've lost count of how many nights its woken us. Weirdest weather ever!
  • Adam got loads of DVDs for his birthday so we'll be spending the next few evenings watching anime films. Last night was The Wind Rises, tonight will be one of four Naruto films he got
  • I had the day off work today. I love days off. That's all there is to say, really

So that's December so far. How's life with you?

Friday, 12 December 2014

My Christmas List #11: Take Part in Janet's Thrify Gift Swap

I must admit I was in two minds about signing up for Janet's gift swap. It's an awesome idea but I have a habit of signing up for things with great enthusiasm then losing that enthusiasm as quickly as it arrived, and wishing I hadn't committed myself. I needn't have worried though. Putting my package together was lots of fun, and I hope the recipient likes it. But....today I'm not writing about what I sent (I'll leave that to the receiver). instead I'm writing about what I got!

Yes, I know it's not Christmas but my package arrived the day after my birthday and I was still in present-opening mode so I decided to treat it as a late birthday present, wooo! And here's what I got...


Firstly, I did intend to take photos of them wrapped but I was just Too Darn Excited to wait and get the camera out. Secondly, it's amazing how someone who doesn't know me at all, and who only got a couple of lines about 'stuff I like' has managed to send me such a personalized package. I loved it all!
So, what did I get?

Chai Latte sachet This is my 'giver's' (is that a word?) favourite winter drink. It sounds delicious but I haven't tried it yet as I'm saving it for Christmas Day! 

Candy Cane and Chocolate Santa They've also been set aside to have with the Chai Latte on Christmas Day :)

Decoupage Deer This is so cute! I do have a minor deer obsession so this is right up my street. It's now a member of my tiny deer tribe (herd?)


Dinosaur Clip I love anything dinosaur-related! Not only that, but turquoise is one of my favourite colours - which I think is a coincidence, I don't think I stated that on my list - so that's a double bonus. Mr Dinosaur is clipped to the inside of my Filofax just now, I have big 2015 plans for him....


Hand-knitted socks Woah! I have never owned a pair of hand-knitted socks and despite being a knitter, I've never attempted a pair, so I am most impressed with these. They fit perfectly and are sooo comfortable and warm. At the moment I save them for wearing with my slippers in the house because they're so warm. I love them, and they've inspired me to at least attempt to knit a pair myself.They're just so much nicer than the usual cheapo socks I run around in. I'm humbled by the effort that's gone into them; such a lovely touch.


I'm not sure who sent me my gifts, but a huge THANK YOU to them (and of course to Janet for arranging the swap!).

Friday, 5 December 2014

My Christmas List #3: Make a Shoe Box

So, although I didn't intend to start doing stuff on my Christmas List until December, I ended up doing number 3 (make a shoe box) back in early November. For anyone who doesn't know, Blythswood run a shoe box appeal every Christmas, in which they ask for donations of shoeboxes full of gifts which are distributed to folk in various Eastern European and Asian countries. It's something I've intended to do for years but always missed the deadline. This year I had the foresight to check first, but the lorry was coming up on 14th November, eek! I had less than a week to put my box together.

Blythswood suggest that you pick a sex and age group, and I'd kind of thought about making one for a teenage girl until I read an article somewhere (can't find it now to link to it) which said that teenage boys are always under-represented in these appeals and often end up with a box for a much younger boy. They're then left disappointed with clothes that don't fit and toys they're too old for. Such a shame, so my mind was made up. I would make up a box for a teenage boy. And here it is...


I thought that shopping for a teenage boy would be hard, but it wasn't, and it was so much fun! I got everything from just 4 shops aswell, which in a small town like this, is impressive. There were a couple of things that Blythswood recommended we include - hat, gloves, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap - so I included all of those plus:

Deodorant
Two packs of sweets
Pliers
Pens and a pad
Shaving gel
Tape measure
Socks
Razors
A pack of cards with scientific discoveries on them (even if their English isn't great, they'll be able to appreciate the cool pictures)

I was really impressed with my haul, although I was worried it wouldn't fit in the box!


It did though, just!


I dropped my box at the collection lorry early on the 14th as I was working away - it was the second box to arrive. I was surprised to find I had tears in my eyes after I drove off. For such a small gesture I didn't expect it to be so emotional, I will never know who gets my box or if they like it but I really hope it helps to give someone a happy christmas. 

This was such a fun thing to do, I'd recommend it to anyone and I'll definitely be doing it again next year!

Have you ever made up a shoe box for a charity?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

On Rejecting Rejection



'Rejection' is such an ugly word. I sent two short stories to magazines this month, both of which were rejected. I always expected that I would be devastated at one of my darling stories being rejected, but by a twist of fate, both rejection letters were lying on the mat in a pile of mail on the day Adam came home from hospital, so in the grand scheme of things, I didn't give a shit about my stories at that moment.

But time has since passed and I've had a chance to think about it. As awful a distraction that Adam's illness was, I'm glad in a way because its taken away the sting and allowed me to be a bit more objective. Those letters were a good thing because they are proof that, after years of faffing, I have finally had the balls to try. I put my stories out there. Getting rejection letters is part of being a writer. Therefore, I am a writer. 

Calling them Rejection Letters sounds so negative though. I want to give this a positive spin.

I have a chance now, to rewrite and resubmit, or retire. I can get some feedback, change it a bit and send it out again, or if I feel it isn't a story worth saving, I can retire it. If I feel it should be retired, it saves flogging a dead horse and I can concentrate on something new. If I rework it and resubmit it, it saves me having to write another story from scratch. A form of recycling, almost.

So, reject, retire, resubmit, rework. Not to mention recycle. When I started drafting this post, all the 're's' were coincidental, but I quite like them. Bit of a theme going on. But I want to replace (ha, another 're'!) 'reject' with something else. Is there another 're' word out there? How about 'Response'? They sent my story back with a Response Letter. It shows that someone has acknowledged it, it shows that its been out there in the big, bad world.

'I got a response letter today, they're returned my story because it isn't for them. Great! If I rework it a bit, I could send it to that competition that closes on Friday.'

There is no doubt that this sounds better. It won't take the sting completely out of further 'rejections' but it gives me some extra armour for when the next letter arrives. Because it will. Because I will send out more stories and they will not all be accepted. But I am ready for that.

As an aside, I'm getting one of the returned stories critiqued by a successful short story writer, to see if she can give me any pointers. I believe, that with tweaking, both of them will be resubmitters. And another great positive is that a different story has been accepted for an anthology! All is not lost. I'll get there. We all will.

How do you deal with 'rejection'?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like (my sort of) Christmas

I am not a Christmas fan, as anyone who knows me (or who's been reading my blog for a while) can attest to. In 2011 I had a general moan about it all and in 2012 I mused the notion of banning Christmas presents.

But last year, I decided to ease off the Scrooge-ness and try to enjoy myself, by making a list of what I actually like about Christmas. After all, I don't hate every single thing. What I hate is all the expectation and debt and over-consumption and waste.  I loved Sarah's post last year about how we get to choose what our Christmas looks like which is so, so true. I've already ditched some of the stuff I really don't like, such as sending cards, buying presents for every man and his dog, going to works nights out, so this year, I've taken things a step further and focused on what I do enjoy about the season, an set myself 12 fun things to do over the coming month. And here they are!



1. Make the house smell like Christmas
2. Have some natural festive decorations
3. Make up a shoe box
4. Donate a child's present to an appeal
5. Make mulled wine
6. Make everyone a handmade present
7. Buy a new (to me) dress for Christmas Day
8. Make something crafty and seasonal
9. See It's A Wonderful Life at the Cinema
10. Make mince pies
11. Take part in Janet's thrifty gift swap
12. Read Christmas stories

So its mostly about scents, reading. buying gifts and making nice things. This sounds like my sort of Christmas! I've finished one item already and started a couple more but I'll blog about them in December. Don't want to get caught up in the Christmas spirit too early....

What are your plans for the festive season, whether you love it or loathe it?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

In Defence of those pesky Benefits Scroungers

I started writing a post about benefit claimants aaaages ago, then decided it sounded a bit cliched so I never finished it. But I've been tidying up my drafts, and I decided that this post actually was worth finishing, so here it is.

I’ve used no statistics or figures here – this is based on my own experience of working with my own caseload of claimants for six years. The main reason I left was because we were no longer allowed to deal with our own caseload, or indeed deal with claimants face-to-face. It was a real shame and it ruined the job for me. I got to know many of them and I still speak to some in passing. I've heard many stories, seen many tears, been frustrated, been angry, been upset, been delighted. And here are my thoughts, based on some of those stories.


Myth 1 – Most of them are Scroungers
Ok, it depends how you define Scrounger. If Scrounger means ‘down on your luck and asking society for a little help’ then yeah, that’s them. And if Scrounger means claiming benefits and working on the fly at the same time, well guess what? That happens. Yes, some of them do indeed claim benefit and do work that they don’t declare. But look at the big picture here. Most don’t. And the fact is, there are unscrupulous people at every level of society. Like everything else, you can’t tar everyone with the same brush. Plus, what’s worse? A benefit claimant defrauding the system of £200 per week, or an MP defrauding the system of £5000 per week in their expenses?

Most of the work ‘on the fly’ is shitty, minimum wage work, like working in takeaways. Or seasonal/occasional work like landing fish or cutting Christmas trees. Grim, manual work - and we’re not talking huge amounts of money here. It doesn’t make it right; it’s still fraud, but in the grand scheme of things there are others, shall we say, who are doing the taxpayer out of much more money, and living the high life while they’re at it.


Myth 2 – They have loads of children so they can get more money
Yes. Because we all know how easy child rearing is, and we all know that they don’t cost much to keep, so that extra  - what £40? – per week will come in useful for paying for exotic holidays, big TVs and fancy cars. Seriously!  If life were that simple, we’d all be doing it.

Most don’t have that many. They have two, three at a push. And to quote Linda Tirado – they have them for the same reasons rich people do. To procreate. It’s easier to judge them though. To say that they shouldn’t have children because the public have to pay for them. Because they’ll become the benefit ‘scroungers’ of the future. But here’s the thing – procreating is a choice. Many people choose to do it. And believe me, people on benefits want better for their children. Much, much better. They want their children to have chances and choices and careers. Many will. Some won’t. But equally, rich kids can end up on down on their luck too. Such is life.

Also, a note on mothers with children to three or more different fathers. I’ve heard various reasons from women in this situation. Because each guy promises her the world, promises her he’s different, that he’ll stick around; because he says he’d accept her other children more if only she would have one with him; because she wants love, and she’s guaranteed to get it from the child long after the latest loser has disappeared; because maybe this one will stick around and be a Dad to them all, if she has one with him. It’s nothing about being a slut or a slag or anything else. Na├»ve sometimes, yes. But mostly lonely, desperate and longing to be loved.


Myth 3 – They don’t want to work
Some are lazy, of course they are. But equally, who hasn’t worked with lazy colleagues? Lazy doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t willing to work. The fact is, there are never enough jobs for everyone. But unemployment is currently at a record low – how could this be the case if all those on benefits aren't willing to work? Plus it’s important to bear in mind that many, many claimants work part-time. They do their bit. They do what they can. 

I recall a single, middle aged woman applying for some help towards her rent because she didn’t earn a lot. But she didn’t qualify for any help. Yet if she reduced her hours, she could get some benefits and be marginally better off. She chose not to. ‘I’d never lower myself to that,’ she said. Sometimes people would be better off on benefits. It’s wrong, but it’s hardly their fault. It’s not so much that benefits are too high, as wages are too low. I also remember a single mother with a couple of children. She’d started working but had to give up as she earned more overall on benefits. She wanted her children to have what they had become accustomed to. It was heart-breaking because she’d been so excited about the job, about being a good role model for her children. It wasn’t an easy choice for her – but it had to be made. Either way was a sacrifice.

Grown men would choke back tears as they explained their frustration at being made redundant and struggling to find anything else. Others wanted qualifications but as benefits for students were so poor, they couldn’t afford to better themselves. Some resorted to illegal work (see myth 1) because they wanted their families to be better off, or because the form filling and red tape to come off benefits for a couple of weeks was too much stress and hassle.

Some simply couldn’t. My sister is a prime example – getting a job when you have learning difficulties is no mean feat. She’s done voluntary work, but there is no support up here for her. She’d need constant support, but who pays for and provides the support? The employer won’t. So that's that, then.


Myth 4 – They waste money on cigarettes, booze, Sky TV, games consoles
How does it feel to be the only child in your class who doesn’t have the latest stuff? Pretty shit, I’d imagine, and no parent wants that for their child. It’s a sad fact that we live in a consumerist society, and all children want the 'in' thing. So yes, their parents buy games consoles, fancy toys and up-to-date trainers. When they can.  Sky TV? They’re not living off a huge budget, possibly no (decent) car and certainly no money for trips/holidays/outings. So some extra programmes, films, sports to watch on TV is all they can manage. Yes, they could save that cash and buy a holiday but bear in mind that would be few and far between, and children need entertainment and treats all year round. Plus, saving is a danger anyway because if it gets too high your income is stopped.

Cigarettes and booze? Cigarettes are often the only luxury they get – easy to buy and instant gratification. Others became addicted young, and struggle to find the time and momentum to give up. But they don’t work, I hear you cry. They have plenty time! But giving up takes support and often they don’t know where to look. Plus, if they’re working two part-time jobs between taking care of three children, stress levels are at a constant high, and smoking helps to to cope with stress. It’s how they get through the day.

Surprisingly, or not, most smokers and boozers I came across were single folk. Parents often simply can’t afford them. It’s hard to justify, but like anything else, they’re entitled to spend their money how they want. We cannot dictate what they spend it on. And when they spend it on cigarettes, they get addicted, just like rich people do.

***

I sometimes feel patronising when I think/write stuff like this. I work, I have enough to get by, who am I to stand up for these masses? What do I know about it? I’ve been lucky; I claimed benefits for less than a month when I was 21, that’s it. I might not be a part of that world but I’ve had insight into how it works and what lies beneath the media headlines and statistics. The generalisations annoy me, and I think it’s harder for folk in that position to defend themselves because it often comes across as excuses. They get away with nothing. But there's a reality there, and it isn't pleasant. They’re just living their lives and trying the best they can. Bemoaning them and slagging them off achieves nothing. What else are they supposed to do?

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

IWSG - Why I've signed up for NaNoWriMo this year


Something I vowed I'd never do again - sign up for National Novel Writing Month. I tried it in 2004 and I succeeded. 50,000 words in 30 days. How did I do it? I'll let you in on a secret. On the 30th November I changed my MC's name to a double name, and I inserted some song lyrics at the beginning of each chapter. Hell yeah! The story was plotless, formless and feckless, and never ever saw the light of day. It was fun in a perverse way but at the same time I didn't see the point, so I decided my NaNoWriMo experience was over. Permanently.

So why am I back on this bandwagon again? Because I'm sick to death of having unfinished novels hanging around. I have three of them. I want at least one of them finished. Even if its shit. I just want it out of my head.

Why can't I finish a novel?

1. I'm a Perfectionist
I may not have a completed novel but I have some fully edited and polished chapters 1 to 5 for your perusal. Oh, just let me make a few more tweaks first, there's a couple of bits I'd like to change in the story, and I'm not sure the first paragraph reads right. Plus I want to cut it down by 1000 words first so that the overall novel won't be long.

2. I'm Impatient
If I could write a novel in a night, I'd have loads of them. I'm all about instant gratification. You most definitely do not get that from a novel.

3. I have a Short Attention Span
I get bored. There's one novel that's been on the go since before my last NaNoWriMo attempt. It's had many rewrites and changes, to the point that its nothing like my original idea. But its never reached an ending. Not even close. I'm always busy changing everything and making it Better (see point 1 about).

4. There are always more fun things to do than write a novel
Like read one that someone else has written! Or surf the net. Or play with the rats. Or housework. Anything that isn't writing, really.

One thing I've learned recently is that life is too damn short and we never know when things are going to fall apart. One day its going to be too late. And I will write a full novel. Even if I never edit it, publish it, or write another one, I will write one. Start to finish. Without the addition of song lyrics. So basically the reason I've signed up to NaNoWriMo again is to get 50,000 words added to this novel without pissing about, so that I'll have something I can work with, if I so choose to. And yes, I know this is against the rules - I'm supposed to start a new novel - but I'm nothing if not a rebel when it comes to breaking rules that really no one gives a shit about.

By the end of November I will have written a novel. Fact.

Has anyone else signed up? Or have you already written a novel? If so  - TELL ME HOW!!!